Luxembourg Wine: Elbling, Auxerrois, Rivaner, and Pinot Noir

133 days of travel just careened us through the frigid vineyards of Burgundy.  With winter gripping, we decide to dip a toe in Luxembourg.

EU map New York to Luxembourg Day 133Sandwiched between France, Belgium, and Germany, Luxembourg spans nary 1,000 square miles, filled by 525,000 residents.  But can such a small, cold country grow grapes of wine worthy merit?

After dragging our gear across town, we unload into a hostel deep beneath the capital’s cliffs and fortifications.  But hunger and knowledge of a Christmas market drive us to climb back up.

Tracy Aaron Luxembourg After a pleasant wander up and down parapets, down clean, narrow medieval roads. We discover the town square and potato pancakes:

Tracy Christmas Market Luxembourg Although early, the market bustles with wood-carved nativities, a man in polar bear costume, swarming children, a wool sock maker, tables full of free stollen, and most especially, the fondu chalet.  Filled with gluhwein and hot cheese, we glow with warmth and hit up the art museum.

Behind a 19th century facade is a sleek, modern museum. Each floor showcases a different era.  And yes, we find wine all the way back in the Roman era:

Roman Vine SarcophagusThis sarcophagus centers on a strange vine-legged woman (Spirit? Goddess? Monster?) She clearly represents fecundity and the vine, flanked by putti eating grapes and collecting/crushing? them for future wine.  We also discover a wooden barrel with grape pits (ceramic pithoi did not happen this far North):

Cuve 280 AD LuxembourgInspired and plotting dinner, we head to downtown’s cooperative grocery store.  Evidently, we are not in France any more:

Heinze Mexican KetchupWith some trepidation, I collect four bottles for a grand total of 21 Euros of local Luxembourgian wine.

Now the Moselle (aka Mosel) that runs through Germany’s famed Riesling region also creates a warm-enough microclimate along Luxembourg’s Eastern border. Here dry whites are king.

We start with A. Gloden & Fils, Vin de Barrique, Moselle, Luxembourg, 2009. €7.40.

Gloden et Fils Auxerrois Barique LuxembourgMade from the Auxerrois grape (a child of Chardonnay), this white has barrel-aged aspirations.

Appearance: a pale lemon color, with a worrisome slight fizz.

Aromas: Although not overwhelming, this smells of pleasant white melon, creme brûlée, and anise.

Palate: Thankfully a slight sweetness tames the extra acidity, barely supported by a moderate 12.5% alcohol and average body.

Flavors: Unlike the aromas, we taste lemon and golden pear, but again followed by that nice creme brûlée (thanks barrels) that lasts a medium length. Gloden’s Auxerrois is good (3 of 5), pleasant, pillowy, with well balanced tartness.

Feeling on secure cold-climate ground, we try Gloden’s 2011 Elbling grape wine from the Côteaux de Wellenstein, 2011. €2.90.

Golden Et Fils Elbling LuxembourgYes, Elbling: not the handle for a hispanic rapper, but a grape of ancient origin (possibly mentioned by Pliny and Columella) and the same parents as Riesling.  But how does Elbling at 2.90?

Appearance: Another pale lemon color fills our glasses.

Aromas: Youthful, moderate aromas of spicy honey, licorice, lemon, and ginger make it sound interesting.

Palate: Even more sweetness here still has no chance at balancing the high acidity, paltry 10.5% alcohol, and light body.

Flavors: Jagged, lean lime, lemongrass, and slate that dissappear as soon as they offend our palates. Acceptable (2 out of 5). Gloden’s Elbling is consistently bright, acidic and simple.

We turn to a more showy label: Caves Gales, Rivaner (aka Müller-Thurgau), Côtes de Remich, Luxembourg, 2011. €3.50

Caves Giles Rivaner Cotes remich luxembourg 2011Known in Germany as Müller-Thurgau, Rivaner sounds like the title of some Tom Cruise movie.  Likewise, Rivaner the grape was a recent (1882) crossing of Riesling and Madeleine Royale, and is the most widely planted newbie thanks to its cold-hardiness. So…

Appearance: Pale, greenish, and a bit fizzy.

Aromas: Young but notably stronger aromas of lime, pineapple juice, and honey reflect the Riesling bloodline.

Palate: Light sweetness controls the bright acidity, with alcohol touching 11.5% creating a light body.

Flavors: Nothing shocking but medium intense flavors of pear, pineapple juice, lime juice wrap with a shortish, slate finish. Still, Gales’ Rivaner tastes clear cut, and good (3 of 5).

Emboldened, we turn to the Pinot Noir: Caves St Remi-Desom, Côtes de Remich, Moselle, Luxembourg, 2010 €7.39

Desom Cotes de Remich Pinot Noir LuxembourgOur palates still remember eating and drinking in Burgundy yesterday, so we how does Luxembourg stack up?

Appearance: a medium minus intense ruby color barely reaches the glass’s edge.

Aromas: Young yet well pronounced notes of cranberry and orange juice lead to clove, honey.

Palate: Sadly, here things fall apart. Without any sweetness, all we can feel is seering acid and overt 13% alcohol. Tannins are limp. The body is light.

Flavors: Like the nose, medium flavors of mulling spices, honey, tart orange, and cranberry juice lead to somewhat slate-like, sandy finish of medium length.

Desom’s Pinot is only acceptable (2 of 5).  Its flavors are straightforward, with clear acidity, and quick. Tough follow up act after a day in Beaune, but there just no structure or complexity.

Now we love cold climate wines.  Years of Finger Lake, Lake Ontario, and Long Island drinking tempered our palates to appreciate mouthwatering acids, light bodies and wild, edgy, funky flavors.  But by morning we both hurt.  This honestly minute survey does no justice to Luxembourg and its wine.  And granted, we are on EU Austerity Drinking Tour, so of course the 7.40 Auxerrois tasted most decent.

We return to the Christmas Market to tame our seered palates. Potato pancakes help. But really, only the fondu chalet can save us. If it ever opened. So we take in some horn playing, enjoy some yoldeling, get crushed by the increasingly-gluwein infused crowd, then finally fill up of magic cups of cheese.

We then catch a bus to the WWII American cemetery.  A long, cold walk finds us between battlefields.

Icy LuxembourgNearby the Battle of the Bulge turned the Nazi’s last stab at Europe into a full on retreat.  Here, George S. Patton Jr. was buried amongst 5,076 other Americans:

Patton GraveWe walk between the crosses. I find an Oregonian. Tracy finds a servicewoman. Then the sleet picks up.  For balance, we trek another 20 minutes without sidewalks or signs to the German cemetery:

Nazi CemeteryMultiple names fill each marker, many unknown. The triumphal white of the American cemetery is replaced by grey granite. Even time is dead here.

The frozen sun starts to set. Chilled, we head back and decide to have a sober night. Luckily, we buy chocolate yule logs for dinner.

Next Monday’s post, we return to France and Alsace!


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2 Responses to Luxembourg Wine: Elbling, Auxerrois, Rivaner, and Pinot Noir

  1. sand110 says:

    The wines promote the bleak mood inherent in a visit to a mass graves and loss due to war.

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